How Mismanagement Almost Sent Spin Doctor Spiraling Out Of Control
[10.04.12] - Gina Nordheim and Jonny Pickton
[Student developers Jonny Pickton and Gina Nordheim look back on their recent student project, and note how a disorganized dev cycle nearly plunged their team into chaos.]
During the second year of earning our Diploma in game development, our team at the Futureworks School of Media in Manchester, England was assigned to create a short beta demo based on a game concept that we would work on throughout the year.
Our class comprised of 8 diverse students, each with their own different history and talents when it comes to game development. The majority of the class had some form of background in their chosen specialty (through hobbies and general interest), however there was little formal game design experience in the combined group, other than the first year of our course.
The assignment presented the class with a very difficult challenge: To not only create a game (as well as an engine to run it), but to learn and develop our development skills along the way.
Programming, art and design were all done in house and from scratch, by students who were still learning and improving their craft. After some initial brainstorming, we decided to create a game that allowed the player to use rotation and gravity to overcome puzzles.
This game would later form the steampunk, Victorian world of Spin Doctor, and this concept became the basis of our year-long project. Programmers were tasked with creating both an engine and editor to run the game and help the designers create levels in them. Artists then, were in charge the entirety of the visual content for the game including asset creation and animation.
The result was a short 30- 40 minute 2D gameplay demo released in August 2012. The used our core rotation mechanic, allowing users to shift the orientation of the levels and therefore change their route through it in order to avoid obstacles and hazards. Story elements were added into the game giving it more depth and playability, following main protagonist Harland Shears on his journey through a hellish maze of underground hazards and traps as he seeks to find answers to his strange surroundings and ultimately, freedom.
The following are just a few of the things that went right or wrong during our game's development.
What Went Right
1. Solid Core Mechanic
One thing that had been maintained throughout the whole project was the use of the "rotation mechanic" as the main gameplay tool. Story elements, setting and characters were changed frequently during development, but the gameplay concept remained essentially the same. Having this strong vision for the rules and mechanics early on in the pre-production phase allowed the class to stay focused and work cooperatively toward a shared goal. Ideas flowed more organically since the concept was something everyone had already agreed on and felt comfortable with. This bled into our level designs and additional mechanics, all of which complemented the main idea for the game.
2. Abundance of Content
From the early brainstorming and idea creation phase, it's fair to say the team had too many ideas for the final vision of the game. This down the road would help us out infinitely. When ideas didn't work or something needed to be changed, there was an ocean of concepts for new characters, mechanics and levels talked about and documented early in the development cycle. Again, this allowed the team to naturally and organically bounce ideas from one and other, with all ideas falling back and facilitating our main mechanic, from our story implementation and characters, to the location and setting of the final game.